03 August 2011

Mental health linked to abuse

Women who have experienced rape or other abuse have higher rates of mental disorders and are up to 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other females.


Women who have experienced rape or other abuse have far higher rates of mental disorders and are up to 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other females, an Australian study showed.

The findings, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed a very strong association between exposure to gender-based violence and mental disorder, said study leader Susan Rees.

"Based on other studies, we expected there to be a correlation and an association, but the strength of it was particularly concerning," said Rees, from the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales.

"Not only was there a higher rate of mental disorder but there was also a greater severity."

The more the abuse the more severe the mental disorder
Researchers analysed the results of a national survey of 4,451 women aged 16 to 85 conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

They looked at the four more common types of abuse – physical violence by an intimate partner, rape, other sexual assault and stalking – and the rate of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, and substance abuse.

"For women exposed to two types of gender-based violence the lifetime rate of mental disorder was 69% and for three or more types of gender-based violence, it was 89.4%," Rees said.

"This compares with a rate of 28% for women who have not experienced violence."

Analysis would be relevant in other countries
Attempted suicide figures were alarming with a 1.6% attempted suicide rate for women never exposed to gender-based violence, rising to 6% for women who had experienced one type and 34% for those enduring three or four types.

Rees, a senior research fellow at UNSW's Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, said the analysis was the most comprehensive done in a nationally representative sample and would therefore have relevance to other countries.

The data, which showed about 15% of Australian women had reported sexual assault of some sort and 8% had reported being raped, was comparable with other countries, she added.

Effectiveness of programmes not well communicated
"Gender-based violence is considered a human rights violation against women," she told AFP.

"We really did the research to find out if there is anything that's working to address this, and if so, what it is."

"There's not enough information out there about the effectiveness of programmes and intervention. For all of us, we should be looking globally at trying to address this."

(Sapa, July 2011)

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